Saturday, March 21, 2009

What we got here is a failure to communicate

When I was growing up, in the late 1950’s, my mother used to send a postcard to her mother Millie (Amelia) in Hastings, Minnesota every single day.

Although it’s possible that it was cheaper to send a postcard than it was to make a phone call, I suspect that the real reason that she mailed rather than phoned was due to privacy considerations.

At that period of time, most people had “party lines”, which meant that at least 9 of your neighbors could listen to all of your private conversations if they wanted to, and were quiet about it.

It occurred to me recently that I really could not remember the last time that I had either received, or sent, a postcard.

Just for fun, I went to my local post office and bought some postcards
(they are now 30 cents each) and mailed them to 10 people who were either customers, friends, or relatives. The youngest person on my list was a very mature 20 year old. The oldest was a very spry 74 year old.

I deliberately left off my last name and phone number from the cards, both to protect my privacy, as well as to allow the recipient an opportunity to play detective and find me.

I asked all of them to either call me or text me when they received the card. When they responded to me, I asked them a series of questions about their “communication process”. After a week, I had received four return phone calls, so I took the initiative and called the rest myself. No one had responded by texting me. Everyone that I talked with had received the postcards within 3 days of the time that I mailed them, but the Post Office is considering eliminating one day of service in the near future in order to reduce their HUGE operating deficit, which will increase delivery time.

In brief, here is what I discovered:

Most of the people on my list had NEVER received a postcard from a friend or family member, but a few mentioned that they had received them from local businesses, such as their dentist’s office.

Most of the people on the list had SENT postcards recently. Only one person had NEVER sent one.

Only three people on the list had a Facebook account, and only one person on the list had an account with multiple social networking sites.

Without exception, everyone on the list had a personal email account.

Everyone on the list had both sent and received a LETTER from a friend or family member fairly recently, most of them right around Christmastime.

No one on the list had EVER received a telegram, and only two people on the list had ever SENT a telegram. One was sent in 1965, and the other in 1974.

The 1974 telegram has an interesting twist to it:

Two of our friends were stationed overseas with the military when their daughter was born. In order to announce the birth to the new grandparents back in Minnesota, they decided to send a telegram.Their comments are in quotes immediately below:

"The first line of communication was MARS, where contact was made from an Air Force radio facility to a HAM operator in Ohio, who then placed a phone call to St.Paul.

So, it was radio to telephone, and the radio language required "over" at the end of each response. I don't remember if I said, "roger". I don't even remember where I went to send a telegram."

As you might suspect, MARS is a military acronym. It’s an abbreviation for the term Military Affiliate Radio System. Obviously, if you have to go to Mars to send a telegram, you aren’t going to send a lot of them.

Only two of the people on my list had internet capability on their phones.

Two people did not own a cell phone, but everyone still has a land line, and everyone has a home computer

Everyone on the list (with one exception) was either reading a book for pleasure, or had just finished reading one.

One person on the list had NEVER read a book for pleasure.

None of the people on the list had ever worn a hidden microphone, even though the information picked up on “wires” can sometimes be (bleeping) golden.

When I was researching the cost of postcard stamps in 1959 (three cents)
I came across the following link:

collector postcards

From 1931 to 1959, the U.S. Postal Service produced LINEN post cards, which have become collector’s items today.

The timing of the cards actually makes a lot of sense.

I’ve met a number of people recently who earn their living as art therapists, which means that they actually use art as a form of communication. Since 1931 was pretty close to the bottom of The Great Depression, it seemed logical to release some affordable art to the general public in order to bring some relief from the economic malaise that was gripping the country.

Four years later, the WPA Federal Art Project was launched. Its purpose was to sustain the “starving artists” of America during a very difficult time in this country’s history.

The most prominent person on the list is a man named Jackson Pollock (born on January 28, 1912) but his wife Lee Krasner was also a beneficiary of the program.

If you’ve seen the 2000 movie Pollock, which Ed Harris directed and performed in, you’ll have a pretty good idea what the term “tortured genius” means.

In November 2006, Pollock's "No. 5, 1948" became the world's most expensive painting, when it was sold privately to an undisclosed buyer for the sum of $140,000,000. The previous owner was film and music-producer David Geffen. It is rumored that the current owner is a German businessman and art collector.

With the advent of personal computers in residences roughly 20 years ago, the number of letters that we’ve all mailed to friends and relatives has dropped dramatically, which is part of the reason that the United States Post Office had a $5.142 billion operating deficit in 2008. On the Fortune 500 list, only 4 companies in the world had a worse operating loss than that.

General Motors was #1 on the list, with an operating loss of $38.732 billion.

Fortune 500 losers

Ever since a Chinese man named Ts’ai Lun invented paper in 104 A.D., people have been writing love letters to each other.

Since men and women are programmed much differently (I’d recommend reading Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps, by Barbara and Allan Pease, for a little more insight on this topic) the letters don’t always have the desired effect:

As humans, we seem to have a desperate need to communicate with each other, which is why a vast majority of the people in the world now own personal cell phones. Amazingly, the first cell phone was invented only recently (April of 1973). The inventor was Doctor Martin Cooper, former director of research and development at Motorola.

If you don’t feel like using your phone to either call or text your friends, there’s always Facebook, which is also a fairly recent phenomenon.

Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook almost exactly 5 years ago (February 5, 2004) when he was a student at Harvard. Initially, the service was limited only to students at Harvard, but later expanded to other colleges. Eventually, it was open to virtually anyone with a personal computer.

On October 24, 2007, Microsoft purchased a 1.6% share of Facebook for $246,000,000.

Zuckerberg’s net worth is estimated at $1.5 billion, which places him #321 on the Forbes 400 list.

He will turn 25 years old on May 14 of 2009.

He has since dropped out of Harvard and (ladies) he’s single.

Having the ability to communicate with virtually anyone at anytime can sometimes create some problems.

Last summer, an 18 year old girl in Pittsburgh, PA named Justine Ezarik received a 300 page AT & T bill for her I-phone. She has a Facebook profile, and recently learned that the system imposed limit is 5000 friends maximum. It’s possible that she has now moved to Los Angeles, since the Facebook system went into “overload” mode when I tried to view the friends claimed by Justine Ezarik of Los Angeles.

So, like, do you think she has a job or anything?

The Western Union Telegraph Company started business in 1856, and was one of the original 11 stocks listed on the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

During WWII, the United States suffered 416,800 military deaths and 1700 civilian deaths. Every one of the families of the casualties received the bad news from the United States government by telegram, but never after 10 P.M.

In 1958, Western Union started to build a Telex network in the United States.

On January 27, 2006, the company stopped sending telegrams, the product for which it is known.

Unlike the Post Office, Western Union had diversified its product line a long time ago. Today, its annual revenues are $3 billion, primarily from money transfers, and it’s a subsidiary of First Data Corp.

To tell you the truth, I can’t remember the last time that I either received, or sent, a telegram, but I DO remember that the companies that I worked for were still using Telex machines until the early 1990’s.


The Telex network and Western Union telegrams stopped due to the advent of the internet.

In a March 19, 1999 interview, Vice President Al Gore told Wolf Blitzer of CNN, “I took the initiative in creating the Internet”.

Mr. Gore was an ardent proponent of ARPANET the military predecessor to the internet, and his input undoubtedly helped to speed up the development of the internet, but he did NOT invent the internet, even though Al Franken gave him a lot of credit for it in his latest book.

And that’s the inconvenient truth.

Although I own a cell phone, I’d have to admit that most of the communication with the people that I know is via our personal computer, and that’s probably true for the rest of the “baby boomer” generation
as well.

However, with apologies to Jerry Lee Lewis, there’s a whole lotta textin’ going on, and there’s no longer much chance for a failure to communicate.

As a final note, check out the January 29, 2009 edition of the Blondie comic strip:



1 comment:

  1. 1. You're getting way ahead of me on use of blog tools. Embedding video within the body of the post is praiseworthy, and on my list of tools to learn.

    2. Party lines were chat rooms of the 50's. My Mother's gripe was that certain neighbors would never get off the line so she could place a call.

    3. As I recall, the first remote dialup to a computer I used was actually a Telex machine fitted with a modem and two big rubber cups to take the phone receiver. It was a big deal for the Chemical Engineering Department at Oklahoma University to have the first one. I was among the privileged students to use it to enter FORTRAN IV instructions to an IBM 360 computer in another building, and to take part in a course call "Numerical Analysis Using the Computer".

    3. Thanks for keeping my part of this post family appropriate, since I also gave you a link explaining the meaning of "roger" in radio communication. Anyone interested in following up should search with Google the words roger and radio.